Parable of Pearl’s Death | Opinion

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The obituary was read like many others in The Plain Dealer, the Cleveland daily, on February 19. Pearl Gover, said the title. He noted that Pearl’s age was uncertain, but she was rescued from the streets three years ago. She was then pregnant. She had three “beautiful” daughters. In 2020, she was adopted by a woman named Carlton Gover. Pearl died on February 22. Memorial gifts have been suggested to the Buckeye House Rabbit Society.

A photo of Pearl – a big rabbit as white as a snowball, like the creature in ‘Alice in Wonderland’ – has been placed among serious, sobering and sad human obituaries. The obituary noted that Pearl liked to spend her days “chewing her salad or chasing her ball of treats around the living room rug. She was the kind of bunny that inspired many late-night songwriting sessions.

When this obituary and Pearl’s photo appeared, cleveland.com and The Plain Dealer were bombarded with fury by outraged readers because a pet obituary had been slipped between obituaries for beloved humans.

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On February 26, Chris Quinn, editor of cleveland.com/The Plain Dealer, wrote a sincere apology for Pearl’s obituary inadvertently appearing among human obituaries.

“It was a mistake that slipped through the cracks, and I’m sorry. When the pages come to our designers for review each night, the pages don’t show obituaries,” he noted.

As a reporter who has made her share of mistakes, I felt Quinn’s pain, but I laughed too. Animals are very trendy these days. Many people prefer animals to humans. Pet stores accept pets on a leash. We host pet parades, pet swims in public pools, charity pet walks, pet costume parties and more.

There’s even the Nonhuman Rights Project, which since 2019 has been seeking a writ of habeas corpus in New York to move Happy, an 8,500-pound Asian elephant, from the Bronx Zoo to a sanctuary to improve his living conditions. This case is making its way through the court system, with input from a Fordham University professor, philosophers, and even the Roman Catholic Church.

I researched the Buckeye House Rabbit Society, where donations in Pearl’s memory can be sent. It is the Ohio chapter of the National House Rabbit Society, based in Richmond, California. HRS says rabbits are “misunderstood pets”. He’s found homes for 40,000 of them since 1988. His website (www.ohare.org) has eye-catching photos of adorable little bunnies that can be yours just in time for Easter (my words, not the their.)

It makes me think. Years ago, our excited kids convinced my husband and I to bring home a cocoa brown bunny from the county fair. We found a cage for her and put her outside. We gave him a name that I’ve long forgotten because, frankly, he was boring. The children quickly lost interest. He didn’t live very long.

I have no doubt that a deep affection has blossomed between Pearl and her human family; but my family’s story illustrates the conundrum for the newspaper between the two sides of this issue.

In her Feb. 26 apology, Quinn cautiously tiptoed between calming readers down and pouring more salt on the reopened wounds of Pearl’s grieving family. He told how a surgeon saved the life of Ella, his beloved 10-year-old golden retriever, by removing a malformed, possibly cancerous, bone mass in her lower jaw.

But, he added, “We know there will come a day when we will mourn her. Believe me when I say we understand why Pearl Grover’s family wanted to use our platform to express their grief and ask that the donations be directed to a rabbit rescue group,” he wrote.

“But we also have to respect people who might be offended to see the whiskers of pets juxtaposed with photos of their loved ones. We’re going to fix our system and do better,” he concluded.

Then Quinn mentioned an idea I share: why can’t newspapers print an obituary section for cats, dogs, horses, parrots and other pets? Maybe Pearl’s passing is a hidden blessing. It could provide newspapers with a new source of revenue.

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